Irreverent to the core, On The Verge does not care for political correctness; and that may feel shocking at times, but remains very real. Let’s face it – who is politically correct while talking to friends?
Language: English, French
Motherhood may have had many moments on television but it is not often that we see it from the lens of feminism. If anything, feminism appears to treat motherhood with suspicion, both in popular culture and literary theory. The concept of placing a woman’s worth on her capability and will to reproduce has seldom sat comfortably in the space of ‘independence.’ I
n her television directorial debut On The Verge, Julie Delpy makes a daring attempt to disrupt the status quo. The show, which follows the trope of exploring the lives and friendships of four women, made famous by Sex And The City, does not scream “feminism” by any means – it is not really bothered with any kind of posturing or message-bearing. But a cleverly written script incorporates the theme discreetly, sometimes in the spirit of satire, sometimes more straightforward.
Prima facie, the show appears to be a version of Sex And The City, fast-forwarded by 20 years. It is anything but. In fact, On The Verge is more of an anti-Sex And The City. To start with, the clothes are more comfortable and lived-in than high fashion, there are zero brunches, cocktail parties have been traded for homey dinners, and sex isn’t a part of the conversation, the way it is among 20-somethings. These women, now in their mid-40s and early 50s, are mothers of at least one son, living in pre-pandemic Los Angeles, at different points in their careers and also in their relationships. All of them, barring one, took time to cement their careers before choosing motherhood in their late 30s and early 40s. And now, they are caught between the satisfying but emotionally drained zone of being as devoted to their careers as they are to their children.
Delpy’s Justine, for instance, is a successful chef and partner at what appears to be a renowned French restaurant in town. The actress, writer, and director stays true to her French roots and plays a French immigrant, much like herself in real life. She is married to an architect, Martin (Mathieu Demy), also French and skeptical of American trends, who is struggling to find a job. Their conversations, that are entirely in French, constitute nearly half of the show – the subtitles sure come in handy. Between running a restaurant with an eccentric business partner, Jerry (played by a delightfully spaced out Giovanni Ribisi), raising a 10-year-old son, and writing a commissioned book, she is also trying to convince her husband to attend marital counselling sessions.
Her slightly older friend, Anne, played by the talented Elisabeth Shue, is an heiress with a successful clothing business of her own and a penchant for recreational drugs. She has three dependents – a son, a husband 10 years younger, and a German teenaged au pair. Justine and Anne appear more level-headed of the bunch, for on the other end we have Yasmin (Sarah Jones), a black Persian feminist, helicopter mom, trying to pursue a PhD. She has a son named Orion and a husband named Will, who is Irish. She is also prone to annual birthday panic attacks, and she seems to have a past we do not get to the bottom of – but we are not sure if the two are connected. And the last piece of this whimsical mix is Ell (Alexia Landeau), the ADD mother of three multi-racial children from three different men. Her grip on jobs is as feeble as her grip on emotions, and her home is a comedy of chaos.
These women may be walking the streets of downtown LA, but they are far from the glam dolls who have just stepped out of the pages of Vogue. They are rough around the edges, messy, and real, but also very ‘LA real.’
The show is set in America but I feel it has a very French heart. It rapidly but smoothly swings between heartwarming and philosophical, provocative and painfully funny; and sometimes, it is also downright absurd – all very French traits. The writing is self-aware; it makes no bones about the fact that the story revolves around mostly white people, almost entirely privileged. At one point, one friend tells another, “Honey, you’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re f**cked up, you’re gonna be fine.”
But under its deceptively feel-good facade, the show does not shy away from bits of grim reality, such as the guilt of working mothers, relationships that have been weighing heavy for a while, the struggle of finding a job in one’s late 40s, when the word “overqualified” translates as too old, and then the slightly lighter but still hassling concerns of an old-school Facebook celebrity trying to make a dent on Instagram to make sure she remains in business. “Facebook is dead”, Delpy’s Justine is told, so she must get on board the Insta train. Scenes where she earnestly but reluctantly monitors her follower count are all too real, and are sure to elicit chuckles of empathy.
Riding on the chasm between Instagram and Facebook, independent cinema’s darling Delpy also addresses the shallow and ageist culture of Hollywood celebdom, which she has been vocal about in her interviews as well. In a mock meta scene, Justine, hopeful for an Insta tag, gets snubbed by a French Hollywood actress by the name of Julie Delpy, who, as she tells her colleague “used to be great.” It is classic French self-deprecating humour – piercing and ludicrous.
On The Verge slips into occasionally deep existential lines, which are being penned by Justine sitting in a store room behind towers of toilet paper. This appears absurd, but not yet obscene since we are still in pre-pandemic times. Truth bombs are dropped now and then, but what makes the show refreshing is that it does not take its own philosophy too seriously. Imagine a middle-aged man, who hears of Hinge and goes: “What is it? A senior home?” That is On The Verge for you. Irreverent to the core, it does not care for political correctness; and that may feel shocking at times, but remains very real. Let’s face it – who is politically correct while talking to friends?
Even as the show appears to position itself as a comedy about four middle-aged friends, it is no slapstick sitcom. In the guise of humour, it attempts to unravel a few hard truths, especially those that are relevant to this age group that Hollywood has not really bothered with yet. The first season of this 12-episode series starts strong and retains pace mid-way too, but unfortunately, the season finale takes a nosedive. All the women are ‘on the verge’ of something life-altering in whatever measure, when the pandemic strikes. The stories are nowhere close to complete, so there is definite room for a next season. But one misses the spunk with which the show kicked off. Even so, On The Verge is absolutely worth your time; it’s an ideal weekend TV binge with just the right balance of escape and reality.
Delpy is at her classiest best in her performance, writing, and direction. That young, dreamy girl from the Before trilogy has aged magnificently not just from the outside, but also as a beautifully intelligent mind. The chemistry between the actresses makes this ensemble casting at its best – and to think they were all cast on Zoom! Every actor is pitch perfect; Jones and Landeau are at their hysterical best, while Delpy and Shue keep it real and relatable. Demy hits the right notes as the insecure, envious husband; you do not like him much and that is a job well done. Delpy sure had a task in hand, filming the show between the first and second wave of the pandemic. And she shows that it is not outlandish to conceptualise a story about female friendships without nudity, cussing, and free-flowing tequila, and yet keep things far from prude and provocatively funny.
Although entirely unrelated, a quote by Oscar Wilde from The Picture Of Dorian Grey kept coming back to me, while watching the show: “We live in an age that reads too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful”. At its very best moments, On The Verge does not think too much. And that is just beautiful.
On The Verge is streaming on Netflix.
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Julie Delpy is a hoot in irreverent show on female friendships-Entertainment News , Firstpost